North-East Atlantic states fail to stop
"gold-rush” on deep water fish

27 November 2000

London, UK - At its annual meeting, which concluded late Friday, the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC) failed to agree action to reduce fishing intensity and regulate deep water fisheries in the area.

In a joint letter, the environmental organisations Seas At Risk, Greenpeace, BirdLife International and WWF had urged NEAFC to apply the precautionary principle and take immediate measures to reduce fishing intensity and regulate deep water fisheries.

Despite serious warnings from fisheries experts dating back to 1993, deep water fisheries remain unregulated. As more traditional fish stocks dwindle, fishers are moving into deeper waters in a "gold-rush" for new fisheries. In a recent report, expert scientists from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) considered most exploited deep water species to be "outside safe biological limits" due to these unregulated fisheries, indicating that stocks are overfished and severely depleted, or in danger of becoming so.

"It is extremely disappointing that NEAFC delegates failed to take their responsibility seriously” says Monica Verbeek speaking on behalf of Seas At Risk, WWF, Greenpeace and BirdLife International. Instead, NEAFC agreed only to convene a meeting in March 2001 to improve reporting routines.

ICES experts have advised NEAFC and the European Community to drastically reduce the intensity of fishing on deep water species. They have suggested a suspension of the fisheries for a few years and other interim measures such as a general ban on bottom trawling and a temporary closure of known spawning grounds, which could then gradually develop into marine protected areas.

Earlier this year, the European Commission announced it was considering proposals to set quotas for these fisheries by January 2001. Although measures are urgently needed, both the ICES report and an earlier (1993) paper from the European Commission make it clear that quotas alone are not the right solution. A similar reliance on quotas has led to the widespread overfishing of traditional stocks in almost all European waters. According to ICES a system of fishing licences combined with seasonal and area closures, gear limitations (such as a trawl ban) and quotas is needed.

"While such measures will take time to develop, NEAFC should have decided on an interim suspension of the fishery, in line with the precautionary approach," underlines Monica Verbeek.

Deep water fish like orange roughy grow slowly, can have a life span of several decades, and do not start breeding until they are several years old - even then with only irregular success. Therefore they are not able to cope with intensive or even moderate levels of fishing. Deep water fisheries not only seriously threaten the fish species of commercial interest, but also other deep water species and the habitats on which they rely, such as cold water coral reefs and sea mounts.

For further information:
Monica Verbeek, Seas At Risk, Policy Officer (Fisheries, species & habitats), tel: +351 96 5617846
Bernadette Clarke, Seas At Risk, Fisheries Officer, tel: + 44 1989 566017
Stephan Lutter, WWF North-East Atlantic Programme, tel: +49 171 7015346
Euan Dunn, BirdLife International, tel: + 44 1767 680551
Matt Gianni, Greenpeace International, tel: + 31 2052 36279


* Seas At Risk is an independent non-governmental European federation of national and international environmental organisations concerned with the protection and restoration of the marine environment. More information on Seas At Risk and deep-water fisheries can be found on their website.

* The NEAFC regulates fisheries in the North-East Atlantic Ocean. There are currently six contracting parties: the European Community, Denmark (on behalf of the Faeroe Islands and Greenland), Iceland, Norway, Poland and the Russian Federation. The NEAFC will convene for its 19th Annual Meeting 21-24 November at its offices in London (22 Berners Street, + 44 (0) 207 6310016). More information on the NEAFC homepage.

* ICES is an international science organisation studying North Atlantic marine ecosystems and the living resources they sustain. It works with experts from its 19 Member Countries including the Russian Federation and the USA. One of the tasks of ICES is the provision of scientific information on effects of fisheries and advice on fisheries management in the North-East Atlantic in response to requests by e.g. NEAFC and the European Commission. They advice the EC every year on status of stocks and quota. The ICES ACFM 2000 report (relevant sections: 3.12.6, 3.12.6k, 3.12.6l)) is available on the web.

* Related information on proposed deep-sea marine protected areas is available on WWF North-East Atlantic Programme website.